Many years ago when were living in New Jersey, J handed me a gift while I was standing in the kitchen wiping the counters, feeling tired and grumpy. He held out a brand new watch, which I had wanted, and said “Here’s a little something I got you to celebrate having our baby.” (Our first baby, now 25 years old, was about a month old). My hands were wet so I couldn’t even touch the watch, it was the middle of the afternoon and the baby would be awake any moment now, I was dressed in baggy sweats and a huge sweatshirt, and honestly, I felt more annoyed at this interruption to my tasks at hand than anything else. It was a sweet gesture, but not the right moment. Timing is everything, they say, and I experienced the true meaning of the phrase in that moment. Of course, then I ended up feeling guilty about not being adequately appreciative of the gift, and it went downhill from there.
But as I’ve grown older–and, presumably, wiser–I’ve learned that most of life’s events, both big and small, depending on how you look at them, are poorly timed, but only if you allow them to be. No, you can’t (usually) change the timing of an event, but you CAN change the way you receive it. Take J’s poor timing on gifting me the watch. A more mature and gracious me would have taken his gesture for what it was–an attempt by a loving husband to cheer his wife up on an ordinary afternoon when she seemed a bit out of sorts. Instead, I conjured up images in my mind of a romantic dinner out where we stare into each other’s eyes and at just the right moment, he pulls out a beautifully wrapped box and a heartfelt card expressing his devotion to me and our family, and he leans over and gives me a kiss on the lips, just as the chocolate mousse is being served. We raise our champagne glasses and toast our new life as a family of three. Maybe this image came from a Hallmark commercial–who knows– but it showed up in my mind at just the wrong time and it was powerful enough to keep me from appreciating the beauty in the moment we had (or could have had) in the kitchen. And what’s really sad about it is I’m still thinking about this lost opportunity 25 years later.
I’ve found the moments I remember the most vividly are the small ones, whether they be small gestures in the midst of a big moment or an ordinary day. When you have young children, you frequently find yourself exhausted, waiting for nightfall when you can tuck your little ones in and enjoy some peace and quiet at last. So we tend to rush through the moments and hours of the day to get where we’re going–a free moment at the end of a long day or a vacation at the end of a long year. So the moment in the kitchen takes us by surprise. I wasn’t prepared to receive a kind gesture in the middle of an ordinary afternoon. And I still feel bad about it.
On the other hand, the moments I remember most fondly are the ones I took the time to savor and appreciate even in the midst of chaos. Once, I remember sitting on the concrete floor of our laundry room in a little house we were renting. J was out of town on a business trip, and I was home, still a newcomer to the area, taking care of our 3 year old and 4 month old by myself. I had carried the baby downstairs with me and our toddler was walking back and forth from the playroom into the laundry room. He handed me the container of bubbles and asked me to open it. Instead of saying “Not now, sweetie”, I took the container, sat down on the floor with the baby on my lap and started blowing bubbles. The baby began giggling and reaching for the bubbles, the toddler was squealing at delight–more from his sister’s gleeful sounds than from the actual bubbles–and we all ended up laughing hysterically together for a few sweet moments. I don’t need a camera to relive those moments of pure joy.
So it’s the small moments, whether ingraciously received or fully appreciated, that, tied together, become the string of memories we carry with us through life. We’re not in control of those moments, but we can control what we ultimately learn from them. So it is with cancer. It rarely (does it ever?) comes at a good time. The kids are so young or our parents are aging and in need of help, we’re just about to graduate, or we were just getting ready to retire and travel the world, and so on and so on. But come it does and we have no choice but to face it, head on. Gone are the days when the doctor hid the truth from the patient. Now there are treatment options, decisions to be made, and there is hope that cancer can be overcome. And there are the moments that come at you fast, that can only be fully lived if the patient is fully briefed on his condition. That moment when you and your loved one look into each other’s eyes more deeply than ever before. That moment when you catch your spouse watching your daughter skip towards the pool entrance, or staring out from the deck at the gardens he has painstakingly created. That moment when you realize that everything you have taken for granted is at stake and you begin to savor each moment like never before. Cancer never comes at a good time, or does it?
You can’t control the winds, but you can control the sails!